An Interview with Kalle Berggren on Masculinity and Intimate Partner Violence

An Interview with Kalle Berggren on Masculinity and Intimate Partner Violence
By Tiana Reid, IRWGS Grad Fellow ’19 – ’20

On Wednesday February 19, 2020, Dr. Kalle Berggren of Stockholm University and Visiting Scholar at IRWGS gave a talk called “Theorizing masculinity and intimate partner violence: from radical feminism to queer temporality?” We followed up with Berggren to get a deeper sense of how discourses around violence against women fits into queer and feminist studies. Co-authored with Lucas Gottzén and Hanna Bornäs, Berggren’s “tour” theorizing masculinity and intimate partner violence is forthcoming and will be published by Routledge as “Theorizing masculinity and intimate partner violence” in Men, Masculinities and Intimate Partner Violence, edited by Lucas Gottzén, Margunn Björnholt and Floretta Boonzaier.

Tiana Reid: Your talk traced the theoretical landscape around intimate partner violence including radical feminist, criminological and intersectional approaches. Why was it important to give us a tour of the various arguments?

Kalle Berggren: When I began working on intimate partner violence (IPV) two years ago, I was struck by the interdisciplinarity of these issues. You have philosophers doing conceptual analysis concerning consent, ethnographers studying how people make sense of consent in their everyday lives, sociologists connecting IPV to social structures, criminologists studying violent crimes, psychologists identifying risk-factors, public health scholars researching prevention, and so on. Sometimes these bodies of work are in conversation with each other, sometimes not. In my talk, I wanted to give a tour of the major different ways in which masculinity and IPV have been theorized within feminist and gender scholarship.

One major difference concerns whether it is useful to look into men’s paths to becoming violent at all, and if so, how these paths should be conceptualized. Another difference concerns the status of gender as a category. Some scholars have focused primarily on men’s violence against women, whereas others have paid more attention to issues of gender and sexual diversity on the one hand, and race and class inequalities on the other. Coming from a background in a Gender Studies department with a strong tradition in feminist cultural studies, I have noticed that there is a gap between research on gender and violence and current debates in feminist theory and feminist cultural studies. I believe that violence research could benefit from more engagement with these debates, and turning to queer temporality is one way of doing that.

TR: Let’s start with the title of your talk,” Can you say a little bit more about the “queer temporality” in your title? 

KB: Together with two colleagues, I’m currently conducting a study on young men who have committed physical or sexual violence against their intimate women partners in Sweden, One of the things we have found most intriguing in this project is issues about time. First of all, statistics indicate that young men commit the most violence in intimate relationships. Yet, in the Swedish context this violence seems to fall in-between discourses of ”youth violence” which is often about men’s violence against other men in public, and discourses about ”domestic violence” which tends to be about people who are 30+. In our data, which consists of both interviews with young men perpetrators and short narratives about violence that were submitted to a feminist anti-violence campaign, we also see temporality playing an important role. Several stories contain versions of ”I didn’t realize then…” or ”I didn’t think about it as violence then”. In making sense of such narratives, we are turning to the exciting work on queer temporality by Jack Halberstam and others, which has emphasized how social norms and temporality are embedded in each other. On the one hand, we think that the stories in our data resonate with broader discourses where Sweden is portrayed as a gender-equal country that still has problems with violence. In other words, violence is attributed to the past and seen as anachronistic. On the other hand, we are also interested in what we call becoming a perpetrator afterwards. In contrast to some work in criminology on how people desist from crime, we suggest that violence need not go together with a criminal identity. On the contrary, our analysis shows how some men realize only retrospectively that they have committed intimate partner violence. This shows how we do not simply live linear lives, and these transformations of the past can, in some cases, also be seen as an interesting consequence of the success of feminist campaigns.

TR: I always like to know how scholars toggle between interests and so I was curious about your past research on hip hop. How do you see the connection between these two projects?

KB: In my PhD thesis and other publications, I have analyzed hip hop in a Swedish context. Focusing on rap lyrics, I was fascinated by the genre’s capacity to encompass a variety of discourses. There is sexism but also feminist resistance; anti-racist analysis as well as racialized discourses; ableist metaphors but also critical perspectives on disability; and more. Sometimes research on hip hop in Europe has been centered around the notion of resistance, but I have been more interested in highlighting complexity, inspired by U.S. work on intersectionality in hip hop. On one level, my research on hip hop and on IPV are quite different, one project being about popular music and the other about a pervasive social problem. What unites both projects, however, is my interest in developing critical work on masculinity that draws from contemporary feminist, queer, and intersectional perspectives, in order to get beyond some of the limitations of earlier masculinity research.

February 28, 2020